Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.
(On the institution and mission of the apostolic ministry by Christ, see above, no. 874 ff. Here only the sacramental means by which this ministry is handed on will be treated.)
I. WHY IS THIS SACRAMENT CALLED "ORDERS"?
The word order in Roman antiquity designated an established civil body, especially a governing body. Ordinatio means incorporation into an ordo. In the Church there are established bodies which Tradition, not without a basis in Sacred Scripture,4 has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines. And so the liturgy speaks of the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, the ordo diaconorum. Other groups also receive this name of ordo: catechumens, virgins, spouses, widows,. . . .
Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordinatio, a religious and liturgical act which was a consecration, a blessing or a sacrament. Today the word "ordination" is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a "sacred power" (sacra potestas)5 which can come only from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is also called consecratio, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his Church. The laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination.
Is God calling you to the Priesthood?
How does a person recognize the call of God before seeking admittance and acceptance by the Church?
The choice, election or call of God is communicated to a person through grace, and the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Ordinarily there is a series of acts which culminate in the decisive and supernatural intention to become a religious or priest. The supernatural or graced aspect of the intention is deduced and ascertained primarily from the rectitude of motives.
In other words, as good Sister Mercedes said to the Wise Man when he was in the third grade, “Don’t wait for an angel to come down and tap you on the shoulder.” That isn’t usually the way.
You discern a call to ministry or religious life in the same way people judge whether they should become a plumber, bookkeeper or radio announcer, or whether they should marry John Doe or Mary Jones. The one who wonders if he or she has a call has to feel some kind of attraction to a life in the priesthood or a religious order. That person looks at his or her talents and abilities in the light of the life he or she is considering.
Those who think they might be called ask if they have the necessary physical, mental and emotional health to live the sacerdotal or consecrated life. They ask if their motives are good—to do the work and will of God and not because they think it’s a way to escape parental control, get financial help toward a better education or escape a life on welfare.
If you believe you might be called, 1) you pray and reflect, asking the guidance of God. 2)You ask the advice and opinion of people you trust and 3) seek the counsel of a confessor or spiritual director. If you find you desire to live the religious or sacerdotal life not just at peak emotional moments but with constancy, you apply to the proper authority for acceptance and the opportunity to test what you believe is your calling.